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Nash sees better days for Blue Jackets

by Dave Lozo
When it came to the Columbus Blue Jackets last season, Rick Nash was just like anybody else. He was disappointed in the team's 14th-place finish in the Western Conference one year after the Jackets earned the franchise's first postseason berth. He thought the team was on the rise and didn't expect the bottom to drop out the way it did.
Nash is now entering his eighth season in Columbus with a new coach. Scott Arniel is taking over the coaching reins from Claude Noel, who replaced Ken Hitchcock midway through the season. Nash believes the pieces are in place for the team's second trip to the playoffs.

The Blue Jackets' captain took time to talk with about the upcoming season, his thoughts on playing with a marquee play-making center, and what he expects from goaltender Steve Mason. How was your offseason? I saw you were promoting NHL 2K11. Are you still playing the game often?
Nash: I like to play the games, and obviously I was on the cover of 2K9, so ever since then I kept a good relationship with the guys from 2K and they asked for a little help when they were launching 2K11 and I hooked them up. Are you the type of guy to use the Blue Jackets in the game and try get yourself 5 or 6 goals in a game?
Nash: (laughs) I think I used to be like that when it was my very first time playing the video game, but now I pick the teams that are going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs so I can at least win the game. But definitely when I first started playing the game I was always myself. Speaking of the playoffs, was this offseason particularly tough considering two seasons ago the Jackets made the playoffs and looked to be a team on the rise and that was followed up with a disappointing 2009-10 campaign?
Nash: For sure. It was a tough one. Coming off that year, everything seemed to go right. And then we went to the next season and it was super tough, especially for how young we were. It's going to be tough to bounce back again this year but I think all our guys are a year stronger and understand how hard it is to win in this League. The Jackets didn't make a lot of big moves during the offseason, so do you feel this group of guys has what it takes to get better and make a playoff push?
Nash: For sure. The year when we were playing well, we had lots of help in the dressing room from leadership. Last year, I think we were a very young team. But we gained some good veterans. We've got Chris Clark and we've got Ethan Moreau here. Those are guys that were captains for two big-time franchises and I think they're going to be real involved. What are your expectations for Steve Mason after a rough sophomore season that followed his Calder-winning season as a rookie? Do you still have faith he can get the job done?
Nash: His first year he came in, and he was unbelievable. I mean, he was up for the Vezina. It just seemed like last year he was pretty strained. He had a lot of pressure on him going into the playoffs as a rookie goalie and I think he had a tough summer with travel and all these events and awards and stuff like that, and I think it just hit him last year. I trained with him all summer and he's gotten into great shape. He's really looking forward to this season and it's a contract year and I think he's going to come back into that area he was in the first year. Can you offer him any advice as someone who came into the League as a young guy with a lot of expectations who overcame all of that?
Nash: Yeah, my advice is stay level-headed because in his situation, one day he can be the hero and next day everyone forgets about you. When you're up on those highs, you can't get too high. And when you're down low, you can't get too low. With a new coach in Scott Arniel, it looks like the Jackets won't be as defensive-minded as you were under Ken Hitchcock. Are you looking forward to playing that up-tempo style this season?
Nash: For sure. I think everyone is super-excited. You look at the two teams that were in the Finals (Flyers and Blackhawks) and they play a pretty reckless game and style, the new NHL style. I think with Hitch, we were kind of still letting the game come to us. The Blue Jackets get to kick off the new season as part of the NHL Premiere with two games in Stockholm against the San Jose Sharks. Are you looking forward to opening up in Sweden and spending some time there?
Nash: Yeah, super-excited. It should be fun. It's going to be tough to travel, but I think for the most part, everyone's really excited. Are there any plans for team outings or team-building exercises? The Penguins did a scavenger hunt when they were there.
Nash: Coaches have said a couple things, but we haven't decided on them. A lot of people have said they'd like to see you play with a true play-making center, like a Marc Savard-type of center. What do you say to those people and what's your relationship like with your current center Antoine Vermette?
Nash: My relationship with him was great. We had success and we both have had times when we've both been in droughts, but we got a young guy in Derrick Brassard coming up. I think he could be a No. 1 center. The kid we just drafted, Ryan Johansen, I think in a couple years he could fit right in as a centerman. But I think Vermy's done a great job in the spot. So no desire to play with one of the League's elite centers?
Nash: I'm happy with what I have. If someone put a Joe Thornton in front of you, obviously you start licking your lips. I played with Andrew Cassels, who was great. I played with Vermette who's been awesome, so I've been lucky over the years, too.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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